Effective Feedback

by | June 11, 2017 | General | 6 comments

by Daddy X

When I first started writing, I realized early on how difficult it is to get anyone to read erotic work. Friends proved somewhat less than helpful. Either they told me what I wanted to hear or I never heard from them again. After losing several friends, I abandoned that approach. :>)

So I took a few workshops with Susie Bright. She mentioned The Erotica Readers and Writers Association as the place to have our efforts read and commented on by those who know something about the subject.

IMO, Storytime represents the heart and soul of ERWA. Our critiquing process has long been acknowledged in erotica circles as one of the most effective means of taking the initiative to improve our craft.

There’s no set-in-stone requirement for participation in ERWA Storytime, though we do suggest an honor/common courtesy-based guideline: ideally an author offers two crits of others’ work for every story the author has posted for feedback. No one’s going to reprimand you if we have a slow week and not enough stories come in to fulfill the guideline. But over time, if it looks like all take and no give, expect a gentle reminder from our oversight staff.

Over the years, I’ve picked up some helpful tips about offering, and receiving, critiques:

The best way to start

It’s important to formulate your own critique before you read critiques on the same piece by others. You want to go into the read cold, without any prior expectations. Otherwise you’re likely to be distracted by the same problems others have seen. You don’t want to go into a read expecting something, and likely finding it. That will compromise your ability to see and communicate different problems or strengths. An honest reaction is your best guide and ultimately most helpful to the author.

What to look for 

Has the author accomplished what they set out to achieve? In erotica, that goal is often of a sexual nature. I seldom critique erotica negatively for its sexual heat, or lack thereof. My thinking is that whatever produces sexual arousal in one reader will be another’s— “So what?” The amount I’m turned on, or not, is simply an indication of my personal response, not necessarily of the author’s writing skill.

Of course, if a story strikes me sexually, providing a-stirrin in me loins (boner) I’ll be sure to mention it (with enthusiasm). But a negative take on sexual titillation doesn’t afford much help, unless it’s a matter of style or ineffective chops used to produce the ultimately lackluster effect. 

What pulls you from the story, for good or for ill? There’s that lovely passage that’ll make you stop and take a deep breath while you contemplate its structure, lyricism and impact. And then there’s the misspelling, tense jump or POV shift that yanks you abruptly from the flow.

When something confuses you, comment on it. Did the writer use enough dialog tags to make the characters’ conversations clear? Did we lose track of who was speaking? Did the author use too many tags? What was it that interrupted the flow of the story?

The author needs to hear what works and what doesn’t. In time, their level of expertise will improve, and your own critiques can become more precise.

How to present an effective critique

In most works, there are well-done elements, even in the most amateurish story. Mention those elements in your assessment. In fact, lead with them. There is no better way to create a receptive response than with a compliment. It tells the author that you respect their efforts and see value in their work.

Frame your comments so they can be readily absorbed by an author. Try to make every single thing you write clear, correct and effective. Make it second nature to consciously write to produce a predictable effect. It’s a good idea to get in that habit.  

Simply voicing your opinion in a civil fashion can itself improve your own writing. If your tendency is to lash out, then make the extra effort to leaven your critique with courtesy. E-correspondence, often banged out in haste—unedited—has the tendency to come off as abrupt. A ‘critique’ does not imply a strictly negative response or focus only on the problems a reader encounters. Encouraging the author will help to soften the blow of whatever negatives you impart and provide more useful guidance.

Importance of staying objective

As you read more and more authors’ works, make a conscious effort to develop a sense of separating out your own pet peeves. Develop an awareness to discern elements outside your own squicks and preferences—mastery of which may take time, but is crucial to providing a valuable critique.

By integrating purposeful objectivity with innate subjectivity, your critiques can delve much deeper. When a seasoned subscriber has clear insights on story construction, tense, POV or declensions, that feedback can function as a professional editor’s would.

How to receive a critique of your own work

Everyone has an opinion. ERWA subscribers’ talents are spread over a vast range of literary achievement, from novices to professional editors. Because of that, ERWA opinions, taken as a holistic entity, tend to mimic the greater reading public.

 While we understand that our writings are our children, nobody wants to hear that their baby isn’t perfect. Nobody at ERWA wants to make you feel bad. At least not intentionally. Of course, there are nearly as many styles of critique as there are subscribers.

We’ve already suggested those critiquing try for the positive approach. By the same token, authors having their stories critiqued should take comments with some degree of resiliency. We’re never done with the process of learning how to write. Being open to feedback, especially criticism, is crucial to that process.

Your responsibility to the critquer

Acknowledge all crits. In addition to voluntarily reading your work, the person critiquing has possibly spent hours on your piece—unpaid. If you don’t answer those crits, the person at the other end may assume the effort wasn’t appreciated and may not comment on your work again. It would be difficult for any one person to critique it all. We pick and choose works to crit in direct proportion to how much the effort seems valued.

What you get out of doing a critique

Maintaining objectivity concerning our own work is difficult. But as we observe others’ work, we develop a sense of how to recognize similar failings, or successes, in our own efforts.

Writing more nuanced critiques can inform our writing, producing more nuanced effects. (How to shape a narrative without subjectivity for example—a virtual necessity for a believable narrator.)

Remember—your reaction is always valid. The author’s words, phrases, and punctuation are the elements that have informed your opinion as well as your own future efforts.

Bottom line? Reading and critiquing other authors is one of the most rewarding and effective ways to improve your own writing.




Daddy X

Daddy X always wanted to be a dirty old man.

He survived the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, and George W. Bush. He maintained a determined, if unstable trajectory throughout Catholic school, a paper route, muskrat trapping, a steel mill, Bucks County, the Haight Ashbury, North Beach, Castro Street, the Mendocino Coast, the SF bar business, drug addiction, alcoholism, a stroke, Hep C, cancer, a liver transplant, a year of interferon, a stickup at his ancient and tribal art gallery while tied to a desk (not as cool as it sounds), a triple bypass, heart attack and George W. Bush.

Now he's old, and it's time to get dirty.

Daddy is currently published by Naughty Nights Press, House of Erotica, Cleis Press and now presents Daddy X, The Gonzo Collection through Excessica. He is a frequent contributor to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association and their on-line Gallery where he serves as Storytime Editor. Many of Daddy's pieces are currently available in ERWA's Treasure Chest.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Excellent article, Daddy. However, I’m not sure that I agree about not reading other people’s crits. Sometimes I find this quite enlightening in that it helps me understand my own reactions.

    I’d also mention that you can crit a story at many levels. You can comment on the overall narrative structure, characterization, concept, etc. — high level issues. You can talk about style choices that might or might not be effective, like POV, tense, use of dialogue, etc. Finally, you can give what we call “nits” – line-edits that offer corrections or reworkings of problem sentences.

    I’d been away from Storytime for many years, but rejoined this year. I’d forgotten how addictive it is.

  2. Daddy X

    I do read other crits, but after I do mine, before I hit ‘send’.. I should have included something to that effect. The more I got into thisnpost, the more I realized what a big project this was. Difficult to cover it all. Thanks for the comment. I’d hoped to prompt suggestions with this. I hope lots of people bring their own suggestions to the fore. The possibilities are endless.

  3. rose b. thorny

    Hey, DX… terrific blog piece. I admit to not critiquing much these days, but then, I’m not writing much either. When I was critiquing more, I always found myself commenting more on how a story made me feel and offering my interpretations of the work. I don’t know helpful that really is, except that it’s how I generally respond to published works that I read as well. I know that when I’m reading a published work, it’s already been edited, so there isn’t much to critique along the lines of typos, grammar, and misspellings, but I generally do judge more as per my gut response to story. I do pick up on typos, etc., but I don’t have the patience, or inclination to do a line-by-line analysis of a story. I do, however, admire to the nth degree, those people who do have the time, patience, and expertise to do so.


    • Daddy X

      Ultimately, the author’s job is to create an effect in the reader. Letting the author know if that worked or not is paramount.

  4. Tig

    Hey there, I think you did good justice to a huge subject:

    I used to take the opposite view on critiquing, namely I would always read feedback already provided so I wasn’t just Harking on a point already made many times. But then, I also appreciate the value of going in there clean and un influenced by others’ views.

    I would make a point of telling someone if they’d tickled my funny bone (because it is harder to make someone laugh than just “move” them) but I felt you had a really good structure here

  5. Daddy X

    Thanks, Tig-

    My take is that if an issue in my story blips more than one person, I’d really better take it to heart..

    Yes, I know I didn’t hit upon the humor bit, but to tell the truth, there’s so much I left out. The further I got into this, the more I realized I was missing. It would have been like wrestling a gorilla to get it into a coherent entity.

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